Photograph by Alex Huanfa Cheng / #ThursdaysChild x Trunk Archive

In and Through the Body

Words by Willow Defebaugh

Despite popular opinions on abortion, climate change, and gun control, recent Supreme Court rulings have made one thing clear: there is a dissociation between the United States government and its people.

“There’s something liberating about being forced to give up any illusion that a system is working. It makes the total articulation of something new seem reasonable, because it is.”

Marianne Williamson

Since last spring, I’ve been on a journey of embodiment. Of course, it began well before that, but I see that as a starting point—though it was also an endpoint. It was then that I accepted that the container I had been living in could no longer hold me, that it was not and never was the right fit. I finally let myself envision the version of me that I always knew was waiting, fully formed in femininity. And in that moment of surrender, I buried myself so that I could bloom.


Prior to that point, I lived much of my life in varying degrees of dissociation. In broad psychological terms, dissociation refers to a state of detachment, often as a result of trauma or emotional stress. It can be a detachment from one’s own body, identity, emotions, or surroundings. The root of the word dissociation is the Latin dis meaning “to do the opposite of” and sociare meaning “to join.” To dissociate then, is to unjoin—to sever a connection. 


It’s clear that in the United States, there’s a dissociation between the government and the people. In the past week, our highest court has endangered the reproductive rights of half the nation, despite that 61% of it believes abortion should be legal; debilitated the federal government’s ability to regulate fossil fuels, despite that 77% of American adults feel we need to shift away from them; and loosened gun laws, despite that the majority of Americans want gun control


When a country’s government doesn’t reflect the will of the people, it’s not embodied. And this question of embodiment is particularly relevant to Roe v. Wade. To mandate what anyone can or cannot do with their own body is to create dissociation, to separate people from the skin they live in. It’s an attack we are seeing play out on multiple fronts in this country, such as the very real measures being introduced to block trans people from having access to vital healthcare.


This fascist and alarming trend toward policing bodies has me afraid about the prospect of someday losing access to the gender-affirming healthcare that changed my life. The embodiment that has come with physically transitioning saved me from the hell of dissociation. Day by day I’ve watched myself become the woman I saw in my vision. And the thought of once again becoming separated from her—from myself—is nothing short of terrifying. 


I wasn’t planning on getting so personal in this newsletter (it has actually become a running joke that every week I say that, and always do). In many ways, I think that came from a desire to protect myself; the more despairing our world feels, the more tempted I am to dissociate and take my feelings out of it. In between drafts, my therapist reminded me that dissociation isn’t always a bad thing: sometimes it’s a survival mechanism, one that protects us from the unfathomable.


Inevitably, though, the moment comes when we must face the unfathomable. The truth is, I struggled to write this edition because I don’t have an inspiring or hopeful take on the events of the last week. I’m worried about the direction we’re headed in this country, this country that claims to be the very embodiment of freedom—so long as you’re white, straight, cisgender, male, and Christian. Maybe things do need to fall apart first, so that we can abandon this insane notion of incremental change. Maybe that’s the only way we will ever become something new.

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